We’re Everywhere, Us is a diary of Liverpool’s 2014/15 season, containing contributions from 33 different writers. In this extract, a rare 3pm kick-off makes James McKenna question the direction the game has taken in recent years. We’re Everywhere, Us is released on August 1, 2015
Well this is rare, isn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, and there are many, many ‘things’ at the minute when you mention Liverpool FC, it isn’t much at all. Nonetheless, it is rare. Liverpool FC, at home, on a Saturday afternoon at the traditional kick-off time of 3pm. Not moved to cater for the television schedules. Not moved because of European excursions and exertions. Not shifted for no other reason than to just keep us on our toes. Nope, one of the things people long for from the distant past is here for us to enjoy. It will be one of only a few 3pm kick-off times we have, so let’s savour it. Enjoy one of the little things, as so much of what we once had, or perceived we had, has now gone.
Going the match, it’s mad how you remember the little things. I’ve forgotten loads of things and I would struggle with match-related observations and memories if asked to recall them. But I can remember some random things when I think back to going to various matches. Take Istanbul – I remember conversations word for word, buying programmes, the view from my seat, the need to fix my shoe laces when the score was 3-2 but being too scared to move, weird thoughts like that if I crossed my arms or didn’t realign my watch and justice band that all hopes would come crashing down. But I’d really have to put my mind to it to remember any of the match events.
Or take one of the Celtic games at Anfield – I remember very little from the match apart from John Hartson dashing our dreams at what seemed like the very end of the game. But I can remember the queue for tickets at Anfield, asking my mum if I could go to school late while I got them and promising I would be in school by 9.30am. By 9.35am I was still somewhere by Skerries Road. I remember the Celtic fan, in a kilt, by the Dixie Dean statue offering me and my mate £500 for our tickets.
Or my very first game, which I had to watch back when I was older as I had the order of goalscorers wrong. Yet I can remember so much of that day like it was yesterday.
It is 3 April 1996. Sometime during the breakfast show, Radio City has a competition to win a pair of tickets for the Liverpool v Newcastle match taking place that evening. There are two questions. I can’t remember them. I didn’t even answer them, my Dad did. But he puts me on the phone. Caller 96 we are, so I (we) just have to get the answers right. My Dad in the background, I repeat them correctly – Kenneth Wolsthenholme and Kevin Keegan. Now I’m excited and I’ve got school.
Get home from school and my mum has bought me a Fowler T-shirt. We get the 68 to the ground. I will never forget the view from the bottom of Stanley Park, looking up and seeing Anfield all lit up. We are in the posh seats, Upper Centenary. Padded seats. Seven goals later I’m screaming at my dad, a petrified nine-year-old as he lifts me up while celebrating Stan Collymore’s winner, and all I can see is the drop to the Lower Centenary. There’s the Newcastle fans on the 68 bus who were staying at a house in Bootle and wanted to drink somewhere. We sent them to the Mons. The little things. What a game, though. No wonder I had to watch it again and remember the order of the goals.
I could fill this chapter with the little things. Once you are hooked – and let’s face it, we are all hooked in this quasi-religious, cult-like following of football – it consumes us, dictates to us and becomes us in a lot of cases. The little stories, the little intricacies and the routines that we share or have. I am the first to admit I am hooked. It’s taken huge parts of my time following and supporting Liverpool FC. I don’t say that as a badge of honour. Nor do I think it is all one way – not many people have experienced or seen what we have as match-goers and supporters.
This certainly gives back to us. Now try and explain this to someone who doesn’t get ‘it’ and the things we like are probably the things they don’t. Yet if you are reading this, you’re probably a bit like me. It matters.
Once you start growing up and going the match more regularly, it really matters. The results. The crying if we lost, like in the 1996 FA Cup Final. The disappointment, the anger, the frustration versus the happiness, elation and outright delirium. Debateson Monday in school that grew in to debates at work on a Monday through to Friday. Which players to sign, which ones to sell.
I remember a long debate on 5 July 2005 as we accounted for the Steven Gerrard money and signed various players to make a team. I remember the relief and happiness when on 6 July we never had the Gerrard money.
Today, though, it’s a bit different. There is still joy and happiness, and anger and sadness, and the emotions in between. But it’s different. For some it’s the change in our support. For others it’s being priced out. For a few, it’s just that it became time to give up, or it wasn’t like it was in their day. For myself, the winds of change began on 6 February 2007. I just didn’t realise it at the time.
When Tom Hicks and George Gillett took charge at Anfield, we were just the latest in a soon to be long line of English clubs owned by foreign ‘investors’. It had happened at Chelsea to great fanfare and up the road at Manchester United to less fan fare and more fan frustration. Let’s be honest, we all by and large welcomed it. We all wanted our share of the pie, an owner to kick us on and build on Istanbul. We had the promises to back the manager and put a spade in the ground for a new stadium, and to not burden the club with debt. It was great when just a few months later we swaggered our way through to our second European Cup Final in three years. Athens 2007.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I can look back on it now and see where it stopped being the same and where the winds of change began to blow a little stronger. There was the Athens ticket fiasco, when a woefully small allocation of tickets was made smaller by the disappearance of thousands of tickets to corporates, sponsors and hangers-on, and then the sudden reappearance of thousands of tickets just a few days before the final. For the first time we protested against club owners. What we imagined would be a one off was to become a regular occurrence in the years that followed.
Now some of you might be wondering what all this has to do with a football match against a team called Hull City (not Tigers, definitely not Tigers, like their owner wanted to ludicrously call them despite the objection of thousands of supporters #AMF). Well for me, Saturday and a 3pm kick-off isn’t the only thing happening. In the morning, it’s the Spirit Of Shankly Annual General Meeting. A Liverpool supporters’ union, nearly six years old, meeting to discuss all things supporters and the politics of football. The main topic of debate, aside from the voting in of our new committee and motions about Qatar and the 2022 World Cup, is ticket pricing. It’s the big issue amongst supporters at Liverpool and across the UK.
For a couple of seasons, the Spion Kop 1906 group, who are responsible for the majority of flags and banners you see at Anfield pre-match, have worked with Spirit Of Shankly to highlight the growing expense of match tickets. It’s reached a head at Anfield as ticket prices in parts of the ground have breached the £50 barrier. They announce that before the match, there will be none of the usual red flags supporting the team. Instead it is to be all black with ticket-price protest banners out in force.
Another thing we hear about is an initiative that Spirit Of Shankly have been involved in with the German Reds Supporters Clubs. One of their members, Andreas Moller (or Paul as he calls himself), has for the last three seasons contacted us with match tickets that their members have bought at full adult price and subsequently donated to SOS to pass onto youngsters to experience Anfield, or parents to take their children. German Reds, recognising there is a problem and going out of their way to try and fix it.
As grateful as I am to help youngsters out and see the smile on their faces as they get the opportunity to see their heroes play, it’s wrong. It’s a perfect example of how football has changed and not for the better. That it requires an act of charity to give youngsters the opportunities that were freely available to many supporters in the past leaves you wondering about the disconnect that exists between the ageing generation of support inside Anfield and the youngsters locked out, looking enviably upon Anfield and the match goers up and down Walton Breck Road. Is this really what we want?
I could talk about football politics for ages. I could probably write a book. Writing the Spirit Of Shankly story would be more like writing books of the Bible; very long and someone would always contest the accuracy. But no, now it’s time for a bit of football, because on this day, once motions have been voted on, tickets for kids handed out and banners unfurled, it’s all about the 90 minutes of football. Well, sort of.
We aren’t very good at the minute. For things that have changed off the pitch see things that have changed on the pitch, too. From a title that slipped out of our fingers to all looking a bit lost. From beating Queens Park Rangers last weekend with energy to a 0-0 against Hull that only at times looked like bursting into anything. It was more like letting down a balloon. Slowly.
Our impression of looking lacklustre looks in danger of actually being lacklustre. I could try and be a pundit here and say Liverpool need to change this or that, that tweaking this little thing improves the overall. But I really don’t know what the solution is short of building Luis Suarez II, or new muscles for Daniel Sturridge’s legs, or new legs for Steven Gerrard, or a bit of courage for Simon Mignolet, or an actual defence.
Knowing I have to write about this match, I leave the Kop thinking, ‘How do I put that into words?’ Anyone who knows me, and even some of those who don’t, know I am not short of an opinion or ten. But even I struggle, thinking there’s not much I can say about that, even if I tried to describe the blow by (lack of) blow account. Instead I wander away from the ground, rushing between people to get back to the car. I people-watch as I do, hearing their opinions about the game, the players, the manager, the football in general, and I find myself wondering if they think like I do. Thinking that football has changed. Not just because of what takes place on the pitch but because of what takes place off it. Sometimes over shadowing, sometimes not, but just there, in the immediate vicinity.
This goes full circle to the post-Hicks and Gillett days. I remember the little things. I remember the excitement of talking about signing players. Of the talk in school and in work about the new season, fixture list release day, the dawn of a new season. Now we have news about club accounts, profit and loss, financing of clubs. The directors are no longer there to just sign the cheques, it appears.
When did all this change? In truth, it was gradual. Supporters got more switched on as owners like the Glazers and our own two decided they would be bold and mortgage football clubs up. No longer did I and others need to know formations and tactics but we did need to know about leveraged buyouts, high-level financing, contract amortisation and the politics that float around it. How under Hicks and Gillett, and even today, I just want to talk football. But it won’t ever be the same again.
I’ve seen behind the curtain at the magic show and realised that it isn’t quite magic after all.
And that sort of sums up where football is for me. I love Liverpool, being a Red and going the match. It’s part of who I am. It’s been great to me, but it isn’t the same. The path it has taken for me isn’t what my dad envisaged, or could have imagined, when he draped a Liverpool scarf around the neck of my few-hours-old body. It’s that we love it so much, that it is a part of us so much, that the things that happen matter so much. And for me, what happened under Hicks and Gillett matters. It’s altered football, Liverpool FC and our attitudes and behaviours as supporters.
Yet for all the downsides of the change in football there are positives we take from it. We now, as supporters, have a voice which when used collectively is important. I’m passionate about the idea that supporters are the most important ‘stakeholders’ in the game and it’s why I spent the evening of my Dad’s 50th at the first Spirit Of Shankly meeting and spent the morning of my 21st birthday speaking at the second. For me, the match is no longer just diamond formations, players and trophies. It’s become more – stadiums, ticketing, how supporters are treated and much more.
How does it make me feel? Well I just take it as being one of those things. But I’ll turn up at Anfield for the next match and hope things have changed and we win.
And off the pitch, things need to change. We need to make football more affordable. More accessible. Pass on the traditions and our heritage, ensure there is a legacy. We need to ensure that what makes us famous as supporters carries on into the future for the next ten, 20, 100 years. And we need to make sure that people keep doing the things they love and enjoy. Whether that is going the match and moaning about a formation or moaning that the directors haven’t got a clue. If we don’t, football is in danger of just becoming a thing that some people do instead of it being our thing.
Edited by Sachin Nakrani and Karl Coppack, ‘We’re Everywhere, Us‘ contains contributions from 33 different writers, including some of the finest voices on the club, such as Simon Hughes, Kevin Sampson, Melissa Reddy and James Pearce, as well as supporters living abroad and those of opposition clubs.
To find out more about the book, you can follow its official Twitter account (@WEULFCbook)
You can follow James McKenna on Twitter (@jaymckenna87)